NOTE TO READERS: On March 19, 2003, American and allied troops launched their second invasion of Iraq in 13 years. Whereas "Operation Desert Storm" in 1991 was aimed to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's armies from neighboring Kuwait, "Operation Iraqi Freedom" was aimed to oust Saddam himself from power in Baghdad. To mark the fifth anniversary of the still-ongoing war in Iraq, a group of U.S. soldiers who participated in the invasion gathered on the campus of the University of Vermont in Burlington for a panel discussion about their experiences and their feelings toward the war. Erik Wells, the managing editor of The Defender, the student-run newspaper of nearby Saint Michael's College in Colchester, Vermont, attended that panel discussion. This is his report.
By Erik Wells
Matt Howard thought he was going to die.
In Kuwait in March 2003, Howard and the First Marine Division, First Tank Battalion were waiting to invade Iraq.
“I really honestly expected to die,” Howard said. “I mean, I said there’s no way these people are just going to let us, like, bulldoze into their country and shoot them up without some type of resistance, without some type of fightback. I was convinced very early on that I wasn’t going to make it back.”
When the invasion began, Howard and the Marines moved north into Iraq for three days without stopping, he said. When they did stop, it was at an Iraqi artillery site that had been bombed by American warplanes the night before, Howard said.
The Marines dismounted from their vehicles.
“No sooner do we hit the ground when I hear an explosion off to my left to the back,” Howard said.
Eric Alva: The War's First American Casualty
Staff Sergeant Eric Alva stepped on an American cluster bomb and half of his leg had been blown off, Howard said. The medic who went to help Alva stepped on another bomb and went down, Howard said.
They had to retrace their steps to go back to their vehicles, Howard said. A bulldozer with anti-mine attachments came to clear a path for the Marines to get out. Howard was guided out of the area by the Marine in front of him, he said.
“He all of a sudden starts screaming, ‘Stop, stop, stop!’ and I look down at the tire, and I could see the three prongs of an anti-tank mine just like a centimeter from my tire,” Howard said. “I was afraid if I even just hit the gas I was going to explode.”
Howard made it out and continued the push north to Baghdad. Alva had become the first American casualty of the war, Howard said. Alva was visited by President Bush when he returned to the U.S.
Since then, more than 29,000 American servicemen and servicewomen have been wounded and 3,974 killed in the invasion and occupation of Iraq that began five years ago today, on March 19, 2003.
Just Days After Arriving in Ramadi, a GI Faces Grim Reality of War
When he was 17, Bill Gates, of Northfield, Vermont (not to be confused with the Microsoft co-founder of the same name) joined the Army. He became a medic, and two years later was deployed to Iraq in the summer of 2005. He was assigned to a platoon of men who were mostly in their mid-20s and some in their 40s.